Last week, social media and advocacy were being discussed in class. The use of social media has drastically changed the way in which we obtain information related to crisis situations. Nowadays, legitimate news sources aren’t the only channels that people are gaining information from. The general population now has equal ability to publish their stories online. In doing so, the Internet has become a forum for people to comment on and discuss the news. While many view this as a positive aspect of new communications technology, one should still be wary of the legitimacy of any information posted online.
There are a few questions that should be considered when obtaining information about a crisis situation through social media. Though one should always think critically when absorbing news in general, it is especially important to do so when the information is coming from online sources. First of all, there is the issue involving the accuracy of reporting. Who gets the correct news out first? How do you verify information that is put out on social media? Can the social media news feeds maintained by the news agencies be trusted? Is the information posted on social media by the “people” (general public) trustworthy? Is it the public’s role to discern between the truth and the not-so-true? These are all vital questions that need to be kept in mind while absorbing the news, as literally anyone with an Internet connection nowadays is able post whatever they feel like posting via social media.
I can relate to this issue with a recent personal example. Upon waking from a nap during the afternoon of April 15th, 2013 (napping during the middle of exam week - classic behaviour), I groggily opened my laptop to check my Twitter feed. It was flooded with retweets from popular newsrooms, celebrities offering condolences, and comments from real-life friends... all about a tragedy unfolding in Boston. As soon as I realized what all the commotion was about, I began to search the web for news articles related to the situation at hand. Twitter could only offer me so much information; I needed to do some research on my own accord. It is important to note, however, that Twitter was the first channel through which I heard about the Boston Marathon Bombing. Personally, this method of news obtainment is not an uncommon practice. I do not own a TV (even when I did have access to television, I would rarely watch it), I do not subscribe to or read a physical newspaper, and throughout the day I rarely browse news channel websites. Casually scrolling through my various social media news feeds is how I’ve been coming across news updates (major and minor) recently. This practice became even more typical after receiving an iPhone about a year and a half ago. Now, all of my favourite social media apps (as well as legitimate newsroom apps) are in the palm of my hand, ready to be browsed on the go. Even just a few years ago, the way I found out about major events was drastically different than how I do today. The rise of social media and the popularity of smartphones has altered the way in which we go about obtaining our news. We live in a high-tech, fast-paced world; social media is showing no signs of slowing down.